FP’s Situation Report: Giving the Haqqani Network a pass?; Dobbins gets slammed; al-Qaida apologies for Yemen attack; Less burial space for vets; Want that contract? Get to the “church” on time; and a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold
Is the Obama administration giving a pass to some of Afghanistan's most notorious insurgents? The Haqqani Network has long been one of the most lethal and dangerous insurgent groups operating in Afghanistan. Now it's forcing an interagency battle of wills in Washington. More than a year ago, the Obama administration designated the Haqqani Network a foreign terrorist organization, but critics of White House policy say it has done little to try to dismantle an insurgent group seen as one of the biggest threats to stability in Afghanistan. That may be about to change, as Congress attempts to force the White House to put some teeth in its policy.
Tucked inside the defense spending bill the U.S. Senate passed late Thursday evening is a provision that forces the administration to come up with a plan to attack the Pakistani-based Haqqani Network where it lives -- by going after its cash. It's an effort the White House and the State Department have been resistant to pursue as it attempts to draw down its forces in Afghanistan, build momentum toward a peace settlement in the region and mend ties with the Pakistani government - the very government with which the Haqqanis have had ties for years. But the provision stayed in the bill.
"We need a comprehensive strategy from them about how the network operates, how they recruit and how they travel," a Congressional staffer told Foreign Policy. "Shockingly, nothing like this has been done."
Although the amendment requires a range of actions, its primary function is to force the Obama Administration to get serious about curtailing the Network's financing.
Dunford writes a letter to Hagel. Congressional frustration over this issue has been mounting with the administration for more than a year. Obama's team first designated the Haqqanis a foreign terrorist group in September 2012 but seemed to do little to go after the network's finances or learn much about its recruiting and other activities. Then last month, Gen. Joe Dunford, the top commander in Afghanistan, wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel raising concerns about the lack of a comprehensive effort to counter the Network. The letter, whose contents are classified, hinted that a whole-of-government approach would put added pressure on the Haqqanis and fully leverage its designation as a foreign terrorist organization.
Congress slams Dobbins. On Dec. 11, House members met with Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins to discuss the issue but came away angry that Dobbins was not taking their concerns seriously.
"The manner in which the Ambassador addressed Members' questions was not helpful to our efforts to address this important issue mutually," according to a Dec. 20 letter six members of Congress wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry obtained by Foreign Policy. "Frankly, his manner was one of the least professional engagements we have had with the Administration." Read the rest of our story, coming up on foreignpolicy.com later this morning.
Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report where we note that we're going on holiday hiatus - today is our last day for awhile. Look for our boy Dan Lamothe to crank it up starting Jan. 2 - and we'll be back Jan. 6. See you in the new year and thank you very much for reading Situation Report. You've made 2013 full of awesomeness one day after another.
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Speaking of terrorist cash flows: Two activists in the Mideast, one from Qatar and another from Yemen, are accused of having terror links. The Daily Beast's Eli Lake: "The U.S. government this week said the head of a human rights organization working on behalf of Islamist political prisoners was also a financier for al Qaeda. Most of the world knows Abdul Rahman Omeir al-Naimi as a Qatari history professor and human-rights activist. The Swiss-based organization he founded, known as al-Karama from the Arab word for dignity, has worked closely with the United Nations and American human rights groups, most notably Human Rights Watch. According to the U.S. government, however, al-Naimi is also a major financier of al Qaeda. On Wednesday, the Treasury Department issued a designation of al-Naimi that said he oversaw the transfer of hundreds of thousands of dollars to al Qaeda and its affiliates in Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen over the last 11 years. In 2013, the designation says, al-Naimi ordered the transfer of nearly $600,000 to al Qaeda via the group's representative in Syria. In the same notice, the Treasury Department also designated Abdulwahab Al-Humayqani, al-Karama's representative in Yemen, as a financier and member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group's Yemen affiliate. On Twitter, al-Naimi acknowledged that he and al-Humayqani, whom he calls by his first name, were designated for supporting terrorism. Al-Naimi has resigned as president of al-Karama's board, but told the group's senior leadership that he intends to challenge the Treasury Department's designation." Read the rest here.
Wha? Al-Qaida apologizes for attack on hospital in Yemen. AP's Maamoun Youssef: "In a rare public apology, the militant leader of al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen has said that one of his fighters disobeyed orders and attacked a hospital attached to the Defense Ministry during a December assault that killed 52 people. Qassim al-Rimi, commander of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, said in a video posted on militant websites that the attackers were warned in advance not to enter the hospital within the complex, nor a place for prayer there. But he said one fighter did. ‘Now we acknowledge our mistake and guilt,' al-Rimi said in a video released late Saturday by al-Qaeda's media arm al-Mallahem. ‘We offer our apology and condolences to the victims' families. We accept full responsibility for what happened in the hospital and will pay blood money for the victims' families.' The apology seemed prompted by Yemen state television earlier broadcasting a video showing a gunman attacking doctors and other hospital staff. Several al-Qaeda jihadis tried to dismiss the video as fake on militant websites, but the outcry apparently embarrassed the al-Qaeda branch to the point of issuing an unusual expression of regret from the group." Read the rest here.
In South Sudan, a rush to the exits for Americans. The WSJ's Heidi Vogt: "The U.S. military on Sunday rushed to evacuate American citizens from a rebel-held town in South Sudan, the latest sign that a country the U.S. helped create might be spiraling toward civil war. About 15 Americans were evacuated on Sunday from the town of Bor in helicopters, according to a State Department spokeswoman. The flights were part of a broader exodus of international workers and South Sudanese from fighting between factions of South Sudan's army. The U.S. has evacuated about 380 U.S. officials and private citizens, said the spokeswoman, Jen Psaki. A political power struggle between former South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir ahead of 2015 elections appears to have set off the violence. It quickly descended into ethnic clashes that risk splitting the country of 10 million. By Sunday, rebel factions allied with Mr. Machar, a member of the Nuer ethnic group, had solidified control of territory they seized in a week of gunbattles with government forces that have left 500 dead, according to figures provided by South Sudan's military, other officials and the U.N." More here.
Wanna meet Kim Jong Un's family? Hurry up, before it's too late.The North Korean dictator has been taking care of the family business. But last week, he had executed his uncle for treason. In "Next of Kim" on Foreign Policy, Dennis Halpin writes: "In the mid-18th century, Korea was ruled by King Yeongjo, who governed according to austere Confucian principles. One day, he began to hear reports that his son, Crown Prince Sado, was addicted to wine and women; more worryingly, Sado would wander the streets at night, randomly committing murder. There were even rumors that Sado sought to overthrow the king and seize power. Fearing for the safety of his kingdom but unable to order the death of his own son, Yeongjo ordered him placed outside in a box used for the storage of rice. Most Koreans know what happened to the 'rice box prince,' as Sado later came to be known -- he died of starvation and suffocation, as those in the palace heard his cries for help.
Fast-forward 250 years later, and we're back asking the same question: Is blood really thicker than water? Ordering the execution of one's uncle, as Kim Jong Un did on Dec. 12, is brutal in any culture, but especially so in a place like North Korea, where even decades of totalitarian rule have not worn away strong Confucian traditions of filial piety. It's important to remember that Jang Song Thaek, who was long thought to be the second most powerful man in North Korea, married into the Kim family. But Kim still violated a serious taboo by having him killed." Read the rest here.
Burial space in demand for vets. The WSJ's Ben Kesling and Erica Phillips: "As interments of veterans and their dependents climb to a record level, the Department of Veterans Affairs is rushing to add burial space at the fastest rate since the Civil War. The project is adding thousands of burial sites and vault spaces across the country. But a Nevada congresswoman is pressing the VA to add more national cemeteries, especially in Western states that now have few cemeteries but whose senior populations are growing. ‘The prestige of being buried in a national cemetery is something every veteran is entitled to,' said Rep. Dina Titus, a Democrat, who has been prodding the VA to open more such cemeteries in places like Nevada. It is among about a dozen U.S. states that lack a federally funded and operated national cemetery, and rely mostly on veterans' cemeteries run by states or Native American tribal governments." Read the rest, plus look at two graphs depicting the issue, here.
Window Dressing: Why Obama's attempts at intel reform probably won't go anywhere. FP's own Elias Groll: Eventually, President Barack Obama is going to have to go on the offensive in the debate over how to reform American intelligence gathering practices, and on Friday, he offered a few hints as to how he might do so.
In an end-of-year press conference before he left for his Hawaii vacation, Obama signaled a willingness to place control of a controversial database of telephone records in the hands of a third-party. Additionally, the president said that he may be willing to grant foreigners some privacy protections." More here.
Navy extends bennies to gay spouses in Japan. The WaPo's Josh Hicks: "...The change came after U.S. and Japanese officials agreed to an interpretation of the status of forces agreement between the two nations, concluding that the term ‘spouses' applied to all individuals who are legally married to Department of Defense personnel. ‘We are thankful for the support of the Japanese government as we worked through this review, and in supporting our efforts to meet the DOD guidance," said Lt. Col. David Honchul, a spokesman for U.S. armed forces in Japan." Read the rest here.
Ray Mabus on the Navy's prostitution and bribery scandal: "we go after people." FP's Dan Lamothe from Friday's presser at the Pentagon: "For months, the U.S. Navy has weathered a titillating scandal involving a fat-cat defense contractor from Malaysia who allegedly used cash bribes, prostitutes and posh hotel rooms to lure top Navy officials into providing classified information he used to defraud the United States. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus addressed the controversy for the first time Friday, pushing back against the notion the service is a soft target for corruption while acknowledging even more Navy officers could be take down by an ongoing investigation. ‘We go after people,' he told reporters at the Pentagon. ‘We have set up procedures to try to prevent fraud, but any time -- any time -- you have this kind of money, there are going to be people trying to steal. Trying to defraud the government.'" More here.
Want to get a contract with the federal government? Get to the church, er, the place, on time! A Florence, Ala. Company learned the hard way that deadlines means deadlines. The firm, RDT-Semper Tek JV, LLC, protested the Army Corps of Engineers' decision to reject their proposal for a contract when a messenger failed to deliver the bid on time. The Comptroller General at the GAO denied the request. We love some of the facts of this case - (and by the way how much money did it cost to establish them?) "...We turn next to the portion of this protest where the protester and agency disagree about the facts. According to a statement prepared by RDT's representative, he arrived at the facility, parked his car, and knocked at the mailroom door "at approximately 1:58 p.m." Decl. of RDT Representative (Aug. 30, 2013), at 2. He explained that the door was opened "almost immediately" by a female mailroom clerk. Id. He informed her that he had a proposal to drop off, and she escorted him to a counter in the mailroom where she then asked him if he wanted a receipt. Id. The RDT representative requested a receipt, and the mailroom clerk walked to the back of the mailroom, turned left and went out of his sight, and "was gone for several minutes." Id. When the clerk returned she handed the RDT representative a hand-written receipt on a plain piece of paper. The RDT representative then thanked her, picked up the receipt, and left. Id. The RDT representative states that he did not read the receipt when it was given to him because he was so confident that the package had been delivered on time." We thank the friend of Situation Report for pointing this whole thing out, and read the rest of the investigation here.
Closing in: Obama and Congress are getting Gitmo closer to closed. The National Journal's Stacy Kaper this morning: "The tide is turning in favor of President Obama's long-suffering bid to shut down Guantanamo Bay. Obama issued an executive order to close the Cuba-based detention facility on the opening days of his presidency. Five years later, it remains open, a sharp reminder of the chasm between the idealism of campaigning and the harsh reality of governing. But after years of setbacks, the president is making progress toward closing the base-and Congress is helping. The administration is using the limited executive authority it has to move prisoners out. And following two and a half years in which the administration did not transfer any detainees, the last few months have seen a series of aggressive moves to transfer them elsewhere, dwindling Gitmo's population to 158 as of Dec. 20." More here.
Gitmo detainees are going home. Former Pentagon spokesman J.D. Gordon asks, could terror attacks rise? Gordon: Americans should brace for shock. More terrorist attacks may be on the way. In a likely precursor to a wave of Guantanamo detainee repatriations overseas, President Obama has released two "high risk" Saudi battle-hardened al-Qaeda veterans of the Afghanistan War, one of whom had volunteered for a suicide mission. Said Muhammad Husyan Qahtani and Hamoud Abdullah Hamoud were whisked away this week by a Saudi jet to enter a 3-month rehabilitation program for radical Islamic militants." Read the rest here.
Who knew? NORAD spends a whopping $231 billion-with-a-B on tracking Santa Claus. JK! It's the Duffel Blog: "Many know the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) tracks Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve. Few know how much it costs the American taxpayer. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) puts the cost of tracking Santa at $231 billion this year, a ten percent increase from 2012. The costs began to accrue in the planning stages. Due to Pentagon rules, a large scale publicity stunt needs to be supervised by several generals. Six Lieutenant Generals were honorarily promoted, four from the Air Force and two from the Army. Their promotion ceremonies alone cost $88 billion." Read the rest here.